The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 376: A Bit Of Class Struggle

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The Russians made several attempts to lose their pursuers during the night, but these were not notably successful. The weather was clear, the sky was bright with stars, and the almost-full moon made concealment impossible. A reckless captain might have attempted to hide in the mountains of Java, but the terms `reckless', `airship captain', and `still alive' tended to be mutually exclusive.

As the sun rose on the second day of the chase, Loika studied the Brotherhood of Worker's ballast board and frowned. "We cannot outrun the English, we cannot frighten them off, we cannot escape them, and we're running low on consumables," he said to Tsukanov. "We shall have to find some place to resupply. Do you have any suggestions?"

Tsukanov had spent much of the night considering this very issue. "Here," he replied, indicating a spot on the chart.

Loika looked where the commissar was pointing and nodded. "A good choice."

The sun had just climbed above the horizon when Michaelson and Fenwick returned to the bridge. Michaelson gave the compartment a dismissive glance, then made his way to where Colson was standing. "Good morning, Mister Colson," he said with unconvincing cheer. "Where's our chase?"

The lieutenant-commander gestured toward an object ahead and slightly to port. From this angle, the Russian airship looked quite graceful -- her lines a testimony to the speed she might have achieved if only she'd had better engines. "Two miles away, a point off our port bow," he replied. "They altered course to the west during the night."

Michaelson nodded. "They'll be headed for Jakarta."

"Sir?" asked Colson, when it became clear that neither explanation or orders were forthcoming.

Michaelson stared at the man as if annoyed by his obtuseness. "It's a Dutch administrative center," he replied. "They're the closest thing we have to a neutral power here in the Pacific. Please give me an ETA"

Chastened, the lieutenant-commander busied himself with charts and divider. "We should reach the air station at 0815 hours local time, assuming the wind remains constant," he announced a moment later.

"We will trust it not to misbehave," Michaelson said dryly. "Continue to monitor our friends' radio transmissions. When they call to request a handling party, wait five minutes, then do the same."

Jakarta's air station was crowded with vessels from half a dozen nations. In one corner of the field, the HNLMS Adelaar, A-11, flagship of the Netherlands's South Pacific Air Squadron, impressed onlookers with her size, and possibly her antiquity. In another, a sleek modern liner from Argentina was taking aboard passengers. The R-87 and her quarry seemed almost lost in such a place.

"Why did the Russians chose to call at a neutral port?" Fenwick asked as they rode the lift down to the surface. "Surely they could resupply anywhere."

"Perhaps," said Michaelson, "but other places might keep them under observation. Here they can come and go unremarked. They mean to play a waiting game, and remain until we're forced to return to Cairns. It's what I'd do in their situation."

"I take it you've decided upon a counter-strategy," said Fenwick. He'd decided to try flattery to escape the senior captains' sarcasm.

Michaelson's glanced at him, then shook his head. "You are wanting in imagination, Mister Fenwick," he observed. "Listen and learn."

So much for that idea, thought Fenwick.

Java had been the center of a far-flung trading network long before the Dutch took over the island to make this their own. This made Jakarta unusually polyglot, even by the standards of the Pacific. Fenwick followed Michaelson through town, doing his best to make sense of the babble of words around them. Many were familiar to him from his training as a signalman, but others defied comprehension. What, he wondered was a shoggoth?

"What are we looking for?" he asked as they negotiated the maze of streets.

"Jakarta has several taverns that are frequented by visiting airmen," said Michaelson. "We'll visit these one by one until we find our Russian officers."

"How do you know they'll be there?"

"They will not be trying to hide. Like us, they desire a confrontation."

They found their quarry in the third tavern they tried: an establishment called Jerry's Cantina. The Russians had chosen a table from which they could watch the door. They looked up as the Englishmen entered and gave Michaelson a nod. He took a seat across from them.

"Captain Loika, Commissar Tsukanov," he said. "It seems you were waiting for us."

"Da," said Tsukanov. "We left several issues unresolved in Cairns."

"Arm wrestling did not work out to your satisfaction," said Michaelson. "Shall we sabers this time?"

The commissar smiled. "We can fence with words instead. Why were you following us?"

Fenwick listened to this preliminary exchange with some apprehension. Michaelson might have outwitted the Russians during the pursuit to Jakarta, but now they seemed to have taken the initiative.

The senior captain seemed unconcerned. "We wondered about your reasons for visiting Darwin," he replied. "Your choice of destinations seemed suspicious."

"Why should it?" asked Tsukanov. "Our governments at not at war."

"This may be true," Michaelson said dismissively, "but they disagree about certain fundamental issues, and Darwin was the site of notable labor uprising not long ago. The coincidence is suggestive."

Michaelson's tone was even more abrasive than usual. Fenwick admired his performance. He was using the most unpleasant elements of his personality to advantage.

The commissar smiled as if he recognized his opponent's strategy. "You seek to put us on the defensive," he observed. "Your suggestion is unconvincing. You would know if we'd made an attempt to incite another rebellion in Darwin. Your police chief has infiltrated our cell there."

Michaelson's shoulders slumped ever so slightly. It seemed he hadn't expected the Russians to be aware of this.

Tuskanov pressed his advantage. "We wonder about this White Russian super-weapon -- this so-called `Device'. It's curious that they developed it in Australia, right under your noses."

"You know about the `Device'?" said Michaelson.

"The eyes of the Revolution are everywhere," Tsukanov replied smugly. "Nothing escapes their notice."

"Then you know about their secret laboratory near Broome," Michaelson said with a sigh. "Visit it yourselves. You will see from the evidence there that we had no knowledge of the place until after the German nationalists attacked it."

The two Russians exchanged glances. Fenwick sensed an element of surprise. "Tell us about your connection with these Germans," said Tsukanov.

"There's nothing to tell," Michaelson protested. "They're renegades, disavowed by their own government as well as my own. They stole the Device from the Russians and took it to Ujelang. You will have heard about the explosion that destroyed the island."

"Of course," Tsukanov replied smoothly. "What else can you tell us about these renegade nationalists..."

"I'd say that went fairly well," Michaelson remarked to Fenwick as the two men made their way back to the air station.

"Sir?' Fenwick asked in surprise. From his perspective, the exchange with the Russians had seemed like a disaster.

Michaelson smiled. "We gave away nothing that Captain Lokia and Commissar Tsukanov didn't already know. In return, we learned that George Channel has been working with the communist agents in Darwin, just as Everett hypothesized last August. We also confirmed that Trotsky's government knew nothing of the White Russians and their weapon. Finally, we've set our communist friends on a wild goose chase to investigate the plundered White Russian laboratory, after which they will almost certainly take arms against the Fat Man and his people. It was a good day's work."

Next week: Well, That Was Interesting...

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